This is one topic I’ve been toying with for a long, long time: Hindi film songs that mention jewellery. Given that romantic songs are so common in old Hindi cinema—and that shringaar ras, which includes the ‘adornment of the self’—is so very integral a part of romantic love, it’s no surprise that jewellery finds a mention in so many songs. From a fleeting Pag mein ghoonghar baandhke to an entire song about a lost earring, there are so many ornaments mentioned in Hindi film songs, one could actually create an entire list of jewellery songs without repeating an ornament.
So, why not? A list in which each song mentions—and prominently, in the first two lines of the song—an ornament of some sort. And, to make life somewhat less easy for myself (why am I always doing this?!), no two songs feature the same ornament. In addition, one condition for each song I’ve chosen is that it must literally be about an ornament; allegories, metaphors, and symbols don’t count (which is why you won’t see in this list Mila hai kisi ka jhumka—which refers to a flower as a earring, or Chhoti si mulaaqat pyaar ban gayi pyaar banke gale ka haar ban gayi—which uses an idiom: the gale ka haar, or necklace, meaning something very dear).
All these songs are, as always, from pre-70s films that I’ve seen. Here goes, in no particular order:
1. Jhumka. Jhumka gira re Bareilly ke bazaar mein (Mera Saaya, 1966): To begin with, earrings. A jhumka is not just any earring. It’s a very distinctive style: a dangling dome-shaped ornament which hangs from a stud secured at the ear. And it’s the main theme of this famous song, in which a street dancer sings of her jhumka falling off in the bazaar at Bareilly (and later, in a garden). All the result of a certain amount of banter and even manhandling by her (obviously rather ardent) beloved. The picturisation messes up one detail, though: Sadhana isn’t wearing jhumkas. One could argue that since she lost one jhumka, though, she’s had to get another pair of earrings for herself.
Interestingly, while the song from Mera Saaya is very well-known and has become the basis for various remixes, few people know that the first line—Jhumka gira re Bareilly ke bazaar mein—isn’t original: Shamshad Begum had sung a song with this same first line in a film back in 1947. The rest of the lyrics are completely different, as is the music, but still.
2. Baala. Dhoondo dhoondo re saajna mere kaan ka baala (Ganga Jamuna, 1961): From one earring to another, from one song about a lost earring to another. A baala, however, is quite different from a jhumka: it is a simple circular earring, the sort that used to be the first earrings to be put in little girls’ ears after they were pierced. There is something very everyday, relatively humble, about baalas (even though you do come across some fairly fancy ones, too): which is why it fits in perfectly with the idea of a village woman wearing them.
In the context of Dhoondo dhoondo re saajna, the baala as a symbol of innocence, of childhood—comes to the fore, as well. The lyrics are quite plainly about how the singer’s loss of her baala is really also about the loss of her maidenhood: her suhaag raat has robbed her not only of her baala (which is now hooked onto her husband’s kurta), but also of her being a baalika, a girl.
Interestingly, this is one of the few songs where the ornament is actually described: its shape is like that of the moon, and strings of red beads hang from it.
3. Paayal. Jhanak-jhanak tori baaje paayaliya (Mere Huzoor, 1968): From the ears to the feet, and from songs sung by women to a song sung by a man, even though the wearer is a woman (two women, to be precise: dancers played by Laxmi Chhaya and Madhumati). The dissolute nawab played by Raj Kumar stumbles about a kotha, singing of the tinkling of the paayals, the anklets worn by the two dancers. In my opinion, this is one song that should be heard and not seen. Manna Dey sings it beautifully (and it’s not an easy song to sing!), but there’s a certain lewdness about the picturisation that doesn’t appeal to me at all.
4. Ghungroo. Chham-chham ghungroo bolein (Kaajal, 1965): I was discussing this post with a friend the other day, and this was one ornament we disagreed about. She said ghungroos, or ankle bells, weren’t ornaments; they were functional, practical. I agreed that they were functional (tied around a dancer’s ankles, they provide a tuneful jingling that accompanies the dance in addition to the music provided). But (somewhat like watches) I think ghungroos do serve a dual purpose: primarily functional, but also decorative. So (and since this is my blog!), ghungroos do feature in my list.
In this song, as in the previous song, the person wearing the ornament isn’t the one doing the singing. Padmini plays the ghungroo-wearing dancer, while Meena Kumari, playing her sister-in-law, does the singing (Padmini does lip-sync to part of the song, but since there’s only one playback singer, I’m assuming this means she’s supposed to be lip-syncing to Meena Kumari’s song).
Whatever, this is a lovely song. Beautiful music (Ravi, an old favourite), lovely rendition, and beautiful lyrics (by Sahir; it’s interesting to compare this song with Madhuban mein Radhika naache re and Thaare rahiyo, with both of which it shares some similarities—the descriptions of Radha’s loveliness, and the blaming of the ghungroos/paayals for revealing the presence of the wearer when she would rather be silent, unnoticed). And Padmini’s dancing is superb.
5. Bichhua. Jhanan-jhanan baaje bichhua baaje (Chaand aur Suraj, 1965): Like the previous song, another one in a domestic setting, all very respectable. Here, though, there is not a gathering of guests and family members sitting around watching an accomplished young lady of the house perform for them. Instead, she dances as part of her practice, the other people with her being the musicians who accompany her, plus her dance teacher: an old gentleman and his servant are the only ‘audience’.
The bicchua, or toe ring, isn’t, at its most basic, the sort of ornament that would make a sound. But, adorned with tiny bells, it just might—and that is what the singer here bemoans. In lyrics that are almost a repeat of Chham-chham ghungroo bolein, she says that the tinkling of her bicchua wakes up her nanad, or sister-in-law, preventing her from going to her beloved (her husband). A wonderful song, and Tanuja is at her loveliest. So what if there isn’t actually a bichhua in sight (I can’t see one on her toes even in the one close-up during the song).
6. Jhaanjhar. Paaon mein jhaanjhar jhaanjhar mein ghungroo (Faulad, 1963): Another, though slight less ubiquitous, ornament for the feet. The jhaanjhar is a strip of worked metal that sits atop the foot, secured to the paayal (or the ghungroos). I have personally never seen anybody except very demure filmi brides—not expected to move around very much, and that too in small mincing steps—wearing jhaanjhars, so I have a feeling these are probably not the sort of jewellery that would stay in place if one were to prance about too much.
But ‘prance about’ is exactly what a lovely Mumtaz and Minoo Mumtaz do in this wonderful little song from Faulad. While the song is shringaar ras all through—every verse talks about some aspect of beauty and of dressing up, from the kangans with their precious stones, to the girl’s tresses and the buds she’s woven into them, it’s the jhaanjhars which get mentioned again and again. Not that either of the two girls actually seem to be wearing jhaanjhars, but anyway.
7. Churis. Lelo churiyaan neeli-peeli laal-hari aasmaani (Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thhi, 1970): And, from the feet to the hands. The hands have long been one of the most ornamented of body parts: with rings, bangles and bracelets of different kinds, they can really show off the wearer’s jewels (and, possibly, her wealth and lack of necessity to work with those hands?)
Whatever the case, coloured glass bangles—inexpensive, bright, pretty—are the sort of things just about any woman could afford. You didn’t need a fortune to buy them, or to replace them if they broke (and breaking bangles can be so symbolic in Hindi cinema!). Here, the bangle or churi becomes an excuse to serenade a sweetheart: Sanjay Khan’s character pretends to be a churiwallah trying to sell churis to his girl, though she cottons on very fast and joins him in a romantic little duet—in which the churi, and its symbolism as the sign of a married woman, does dominate.
8. Kangan. Jaanu jaanu ri kaahe khanke hai tora kangna (Insaan Jaag Utha, 1959): One of my favourite female duets: Asha Bhonsle and Geeta Dutt sing playback for Madhubala and Minoo Mumtaz in this sweetly teasing little song about the manifestations of love. The kangan, or bracelet, is the focus of both the picturisation as well as the music when the song begins: Minoo Mumtaz jangles her kangan (which has lovely little bells attached to it), the jangling echoed somewhat in the music—and then begins a playful little mutual leg-pulling as the girls tease each other about their respective beaus (played by Sunil Dutt and Sundar), who also, on the sly, listen in.
Other ornaments find a mention in this song too (bracelets, apparently, are not the only items of jewellery that herald a love): there’s a jhumka mentioned, as well as a paayal. But the prominent ornament, the highlight of the song, is the kangana.
9. Chhalla. Aa meri rani le jaa chhalla nishaani (Anjaana, 1969): If one is talking about ornaments for the hands, how can one not talk about rings? (As far as I’m concerned, that’s very true, since the only ornaments I wear all the time are rings; I’m not much of a jewellery person). A chhalla is a ring (which is why a key ring is known as a ‘chaabi ka chhalla’—literally). In Aa meri rani le jaa chhalla nishaani, the chhalla—a plain, iron ring, no frills—is being forced onto a furious Babita, along with the most unwelcome attentions of Rajendra Kumar. You don’t get to see much of the chhalla except in brief snatches, but it’s there, symbolizing his infatuation with her.
10. Necklace. Saiyyaan raja laa do gale ka mohe haar re (Naya Andaaz, 1956): Considering the wide array of chokers, ‘chains’, mangalsutras, and whatnot found draped about the necks of Indian women—both real-life and reel-life—one would expect songs about necklaces to abound. True, there is actually a film named after one (Naulakha Haar, 1953, starring Meena Kumari), but songs about haars or maalas seem to be few and far between.
But here, from Naya Andaaz (coincidentally, also starring Meena Kumari), is a song in which the heroine—a stage performer—importunes her beloved (Kishore Kumar, playing a poet/singer) to buy her a necklace. And other things, like bracelets, but she keeps coming back to the necklace, again and again.
There are lots of other songs about jewellery out there. Which ones would you add to the list? (And, if you can come up with songs about ornaments other than the ones I’ve listed, that would be especially appreciated!)